Skip to main content

Check out our 1Q2024 Market Review and Investment Outlook for 2024

I Stock 621904232 NAS KAM edited

Bequests and Beneficiary Designations: Simple Ways to Leave a Legacy

Photo of author, Kathleen McDermott.
Kathleen McDermott
Business Development Manager and Director of Nonprofit Advisory Services

Let’s face it, unless you are a large nonprofit, implementing a planned giving program can be overwhelming and costly. However, the challenges of developing a program and the related costs shouldn’t be barriers to at least implementing the basics. All you need to do is let your donors and constituents know you are open for business and ready to accept charitable legacies through bequests and beneficiary designations.


According to Giving USA 2020, in 2019 over $43.21 billion was given to charity through bequests. Fortunately, marketing bequests for your organization is easy, inexpensive, and simple for the donor too!

Simply put, a bequest is a gift made through one’s will. Bequests are attractive to donors because they are revocable (the will can always be changed), a bequest doesn’t compromise a person’s current financial security, and provides for an estate tax deduction.

Some of your donors may have already named your organization but when you are having conversations with your donors and patrons, listen for verbal cues such as: I want to make a difference, I wish I could do more, I’m grateful for the services you offer and want to help others, I believe my children are well taken care of, I wish to share with those less fortunate, I don't want my estate to be eroded by taxes.

Beneficiary Designations

A designated beneficiary is named on a life insurance policy, retirement account or investment portfolio as the recipient of those assets in the event of the account holder's death. Most of the time, the designated beneficiary is a spouse, child, or another loved one. However, charities can be partial or solo beneficiaries too. In fact, many people use this method of philanthropy when there are other estate assets to support family members and loved ones.

Beneficiary designations are attractive for the same reasons as bequests plus, there is no cost to making a change, an attorney isn’t needed, the change can be made quickly, and there is plenty of flexibility for gifting options (sole beneficiary, one of the primary beneficiaries, contingent beneficiary).

Some additional verbal cues include: Most of my assets are in my retirement plan, and I just updated my will and don’t want to change it.

How to Get Started

  1. As with any fundraising campaign, start by creating a compelling case for support. Be sure to define why a legacy program is important, how a legacy gift will support the organization’s mission for the long-term, and what outcomes are expected as a result of the support.
  2. Begin by marketing your program with a simple legacy language on your donor letters, marketing collateral, and website. Avoid technical jargon. For example, use the phrase “gift in your will” instead of “bequest”.
  3. Share donor testimonials. A donor’s decision to make a bequest or beneficiary designation often comes with an emotional story. Ask for permission to document and share these so others will be encouraged to make a similar commitment. Incorporate these stories into your newsletters, website, and appeal letters.
  4. Once you’ve enjoyed some success, consider investing in permanent materials such as brochures and videos.

If you are an individual considering a legacy gift, consider reaching out to a trusted advisor who can help you make the right choice for your unique situation. For nonprofit organizations interested in learning more about developing a legacy program, please click here.

Related Insights
I Stock 1213877364 SAT blog USE

Nonprofit Fiscal Planning: Sustaining the Work That Is Bigger Than Us

At McKinley Carter, we not only provide guidance in a variety of important areas of nonprofit operations and finance (investment management, board governance, and fundraising, to name just a few), we also contribute to the overall mission of our nonprofit clients and their positive community impact, in perpetuity. How? Through an alignment of our goals — the most important of which is sustainability.

​​​​​​​Sustainability is critical for a nonprofit’s long-term viability, effectiveness, and service to constituents. It goes hand-in-hand with fiscal planning. Find out what nonprofits should consider in their fiscal planning.

Read More
I Stock 471500470 NAS TKS blog Website

Happiness 101: Build a Family Philanthropy Plan

Building a family culture of philanthropy, whether that is through monetary efforts, or through gifts of time and energy, can strengthen family bonds, create a lasting legacy, and make an important difference in our communities. Is now the time to be intentional with your family about giving back to your community? Start the conversation and see where it leads.

Read More

“Alright, Stop. Collaborate and Listen”

The title of this blog is meant to catch the attention of all those who grew up in the 80s. This is one of the first lines in the debut song "Ice Ice Baby" by American rapper Vanilla Ice. While Vanilla Ice's song doesn't have anything to do with nonprofit collaboration, the words stop, collaborate, and listen do resonate when it comes to opportunities for nonprofits to collaborate with their community. Learn more.

Read More